|H/T to Jon Stewart|
That is not without its cost - human and financial.
Just the other day, I was thrilled - as I'm sure we all were - to learn that the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced a ruling that will ensure all legally-married same-sex couples, regardless of where they live, will be recognized for federal tax purposes.
Prior to the ruling, lawfully married same-sex couples were forced to declare themselves “unmarried” to file their federal income tax returns. Furthermore, transfers of property, gifts and inheritances between same-sex spouses were taxed, unlike those between opposite-sex spouses – as was the case in Edie Windsor’s successful challenge to DOMA before the Supreme Court. Even the health insurance benefits provided for a same-sex spouse were treated as taxable income, costing the average same-sex couple over $1,000 a year in additional taxes.
So, now you can live in Texas or Alamama or even New Jersey and get married in New York or Washington, DC or even Delaware and, at least in the eyes of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS, your marriage will be recognized. Well, for federal tax purposes.
I'm having wonderful conversations with couples who have been together for 5, 10, 15, 20 years who are excited and thrilled to finally - FINALLY - be getting married.
Yes, they want the legal protection afforded by marriage, but they are not rushing to have a civil ceremony performed a Justice of the Peace. In addition to the legal aspects of marriage, they also want the covenant they make to be "blessed" by the church.
I'm hearing themes in these conversations that a marriage conducted by a "person of the cloth" - whether or not in an actual church - also becomes an act of forgiveness and absolution from them for so many years of the church fanning the flames of prejudice and bigotry by using scripture to construct systems of oppression.
I get it. I totally get it. And, we do just fine until they ask the question, "What is your fee?"
What I want - what I really, really want - to say is: "Well, when you total all the expenses - the wedding attire, the flowers, the photographer, the videographer, the reception with the open bar, the limo, and the honeymoon, etc., - factor in a good, old fashioned biblical tithe of 10% of the total and that will be the church's fee."
I know. I know. Not gonna happen.
What I do say is, "Well, it depends on what you want. If you want the ceremony in a church with organ music and communion, that involves a whole list of fees over which I have no control. You should also know that the date of the ceremony will depend on the availability of the church. If you want to have your ceremony on the beach, the various towns on the beaches of Delmarva require a permit and there is a charge for that. And then, separate from that are my requirements and fees."
At this point, I can hear them starting to get nervous.
I understand that you may have met there and have romantic attractions to that place. That's fine. Have your reception there. Not your wedding. Not with me officiating, anyway.
Call me old fashioned, but I just can't get my head wrapped around the appropriateness of the location of a bar for a wedding.
That's usually not a problem.
Here's the thing: I don't just "do" weddings. My perspective of a marriage at which I officiate is that it is the blessing of a sacred covenant that flows out of a relationship marked by mutuality and respect and equality and fidelity.
I like to have something of a relationship with the people for whom I'm about to bless the covenant they make. That requires a little bit of time. Not much. Two hours, basically. At a minimum.
To that end, I require a minimum of two premarital counseling sessions (more, if we can) in which we talk about relationships and vocation and covenants and how that all gets expressed in the symbolism of ceremony and music and the words of the vows.
In addition, I am required to know if either of the couple has been legally and/or canonically married previous to this marriage and to simply see their divorce papers. I also need to know if there are any dependent children from that previous marriage and to inquire if those children are being cared for in accordance to any legal agreements made at the time of the divorce.
If I'm doing a very simple ceremony on the beach or in a garden or a back yard, my standard fee for all of that ranges from $150 - $250, depending on the ability of the couple to pay. That includes the minimum two hours of counseling, the development of the liturgy, the ceremony - including the homily - and, of course, travel to and from the ceremony.
If I'm performing the service in a church which requires coordination with the rector, the music director, the office staff who will produce the bulletin I put together on my lap top, the altar guild and the sextant, the fee is $350 - $500, again, depending on the complexity of the service and the ability of the couple to pay.
I don't think that's outrageous. Indeed, it works out to about $12-$15 per hour. Last time I checked, $15 was considered a 'living wage' - even for someone working at MacDonald's.
What's amazing to me is the push-back I've gotten from some couples - I'm sad to say, all of them lesbian - and most of them formerly (or still) Roman Catholic.
"One hundred and fifty dollars!" yelled one into the telephone. "All we want you to do is to say the words on the beach and be done with it. That's going to take you, what?, 10 minutes?"
Once again, I gently and calmly explain my philosophy and theology and requirements. It's not hard to tell that they aren't listening to a word.
All she heard was $150 for 10 minutes = Rip Off.
I've learned to wait for the next response. It's become predictable, "And you - a priest (the word drips with sarcasm) of all people - should know that women - especially lesbians - don't make the same salaries as men. You should know better! This is an issue of justice and equality!"
I try, as best I can, to remind them that I, even I, am a woman. And, didn't Jesus say that the worker deserves 'his' wages? (Luke 10:7 - I've got it memorized. Not that it makes any difference. They aren't listening, anyway).
I have tried the strategy of reminding them of what they are spending on the wedding and that I'd be willing to bet that my minimum fee of $150 is far less than the cost of printing the invitations and postage to their friends. That only seems to infuriate them more. So, I stopped trying that technique.
And, they were very clear that they wanted a woman to officiate. Indeed, she insisted on calling me "Mother" even though I was - and am - pretty clear that, except in very formal situation, I skip all honorific titles and prefer my baptismal name.
She asked "the fee question". I did my spiel. She had a pretty explosive reaction. We talked - well, I talked. She yelled. It ended like this:
She (yelling): "Well, okay, but it's $150 and Not. One. Penny. More."
Me (calmly): "You know what? I can't do this. Not even for $500. It's not really about the money. Relationships are very important to me - yours and the one I have with you both. How about if I give you the names of some people who are licensed to officiate at marriages and you can talk to them?"
She (yelling): "Listen, we want our wedding in a church. We want what everyone else wants and has and gets. Who are you to deny us what we've been waiting all these years to have?"
You see where this was coming from - and going. Rejection experienced from biological mothers and "Mother Church" and "Rev'd Mothers" (even if we don't call ourselves that) all get mixed up in one messy ball of transference and projection.
Truth is, I've waived my fee - or reduced it substantially - for couples - lesbian, gay and straight - that are really having a hard time, financially. Given what I heard about this wedding, however, money was not the issue. It was merely the presenting, symbolic issue for lots of other, deeper issues that involve injustice and justice and oppression and a sense of entitlement.
I ended the conversation by saying that I thought she might want to take some time to carefully consider our conversation and talk it over with her partner-soon-to-be-wife. And then, if she wanted, we could talk again.
I don't know if that's going to happen. I hope she finds a way to see beyond the hurt and disappointment anxiety that has turned her into a lesbian "Bridezilla".
We live in sure and certain hope.
We're not out of the woods, but we're on the path.
We're not exactly in the desert, but we've not yet arrived at The Promised Land.
There's a reason the Hebrews wandered in the desert for 40 years after they were released from bondage in Egypt. They needed that time - two generations - to forgive their captors and adjust to the idea of freedom and to formulate the standards and requirements - The Ten Commandments - of what it means to live together in community in covenant with God.
I suspect it will take God's Rainbow Tribe at least that long to forgive the church and understand what "fair and equal" means for everyone.
We live in sure and certain hope.